The biggest loser in the bike trail debate: The citizens of Rappahannock County

This newspaper has not taken an editorial opinion on the merits of the Schools Connector, and we will not. But, sadly, we feel Rappahannock County and its citizens are huge losers from the tenor of the debate surrounding the project. Simply put, disinformation, fear mongering and anger played far too large a role in the trail controversy.

We respect the many fine people on both sides who voiced heartfelt opinions against and for the Schools Connector. But we reject the loudest voices of a small group of trail opponents who stoked unnecessary fears that divided the community.

For instance, at both public hearings, one citizen spoke with heartfelt concern that the trail would take part of her sister’s yard. No private land would have been seized to make way for the trail, which would have run through VDOT right of ways and school property.

And there was repeated insinuation that the grant money involved could be used for other genuine needs in the county, such as fire and rescue funding. While this and other needs are real, it was an apples and oranges argument. The VDOT money was specifically designated for a Schools Connector-type trail, either here or elsewhere in the state. It couldn’t have been used for other purposes.

Could the RappTrails group and its supporters have done things differently? Yes, of course. Seeking more community input from the outset might have made the project feel more inclusive.

But left unsaid — though quite apparent — is that some of the most vocal trail opponents simply didn’t like the source of the trail idea. For them, this quickly — and purposefully — became an “us” and “them” issue, where these dividers sought to split the community by stoking a class schism. The tired “come here” vs. “been here” rhetoric also popped up again.

There was too much anger in the high school auditorium during both bike trail hearings. The self-appointed vanguards of the community are loud, and they are good at whipping up a frenzy. Sound familiar? Funny, it seems to be happening a lot in recent years.

But is this how we want our public dialogue to transpire? Hopefully not.

Beyond the natural beauty of Rappahannock County, a defining characteristic of our home is a generosity of spirit, where neighbors really do help their neighbors. People from vastly different life experiences live and work together for the good of their fellow citizens, from the volunteer fire and rescue squads to the Food Pantry.

We’re not a community at each other’s throats. Let’s debate the merits of ideas and leave behind the ugliness that tainted the bike trail debate. We’re too good of a place to go down this path again.

Staff/Contributed
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3 Comments

  1. Although I feel everyone should have the opportunity to voice their opinion, I believe people living where the bike trail would be built should be allowed the loudest votes because this bike trail will impact their lives daily and forever. Let us all imagine something like this being constructed on our land borders.

  2. We all have the ability to misunderstand and that ability is amplified sometimes when we have decided ahead of time what the situation is, instead of maintaining neutrality and objectivity.

    This editorial seems to be demonstrating exactly that.

    Maintaining objectivity and neutrality would be desirable characteristics of an unbiased reporting of facts, even in an editorial.

    Without a set of construction plans showing rights of way and boundary lines and set backs for construction the claim you have made that the person who voiced CONCERN that personal private property would be used was fallacious was just plain uninformed if not out right intentionally false. The woman’s concern was NOT wrong at all, and you are, if you re being honest, unable to claim categorically that it wasn’t without the details being before you and the rest of us. In fact all you are doing is repeating what someone else has claimed without substantiation of any kind. It takes real plans to know one way or the other and they aren’t extant. Add to that the details of the particular location given, the identifiable existing conflicts with the VDOT property involved, and a logical conclusion is that private property would likely have been required. Whether it would be “seized” or not isn’t really germane if the only alternative is to go outside of the VDOT Maintenance yard, as it sure looks like it would have from the simple lacking in detail scoping documents submitted. But again, one can’t know without plans and the plans are and have been all along MIA.

    BTW, there have been ZERO Public Hearings on the Bike Trail and your reporting of the situation as having been so is again either a matter of a wilfull attempt to misrepresent things or real ignorance of the matter. That would be funny except it has been discussed and pointed out numerous times in various social media and public forums that NO Public Hearings have been held at all. All that has occurred is Public Comment periods at normal County BOS meetings have hosted comments by citizens predominantly focused on the Bike Trail Proposal which was an agenda item for the BOS several times now.

    You go on to misrepresent real facts in your next statement as well. That is where you state “there was repeated insinuation that the grant money involved could be used for other genuine needs in the county”. Perhaps you really have interpreted what you read or heard in the fashion you have presented; HOWEVER, it has been clarified numerous times again on several social media and at public meetings that all references to alternate needs were NOT suggesting that TAP Grant monies could be used for alternate purposes; but rather that there were numerous other pressing needs in the County which needed our collective attention and dedication of public credit and tax dollars FIRST before efforts were made to increase our public infrastructure with something like a Bike Trail, which is far from a pressing need. You know that; yet you chose to falsely pontificate and blame others for something which at best resides primarily in your own mind. Obviously a matter of a personal interpretation but you report it as though there was a real insinuation, which there wasn’t.

    Obviously I found your editorial lacking and insubstantial which is sad.

    I personally speak loudly and clearly and passionately. I spoke in opposition and I believe I spoke clearly and unambiguously. I spoke to issues and I spoke directly to the BOS, not to anyone else.

    Where I expressed anger it was directed at the BOS.

    As for Schisms; Any “class schism” occurred, it seemed to this observer, due to accusations from the BIKE TRAIL Coalition questioning the intelligence and integrity of people like myself; someone who lives here marginally and has valid concerns about just how responsible a COUNTY decision to apply for a TAP Grant really is without having put the matter before the entire County FIRST and FIRST having done due dilligence so all factual information was before everyone.

    Are you proud of this statement: “The self-appointed vanguards of the community are loud, and they are good at whipping up a frenzy.”??? Do you think that perhaps you are just a tad off base, or did you really intend to imply without directly saying “all opposition” to this project is obnoxiously loud and ill-disciplined and are doing so disingenuously while intentionally lying. You seem to be saying that.

    As a citizen who is impacted by the decisions of the BOS which encumber the County in any way, I have not only a right but a obligation to voice my objections. That is the nature of our political process which we attempt to force down the throats of numerous other populations around the Globe and penalize them when they don’t adopt our ways. You actually appear to be suggesting that we forego for ourselves the essence of our democratic process in favor of tranquility and harmony (safety?) even though the process was initiated by the RappTrails folks in what sure appeared to be an attempted end run.

    Had the RappTrails Coalition come forth with more than a sales pitch and denigrating comments about those who opposed their pet project perhaps things woud have gone differently, perhaps more respectfully; but relying on a sleeping BOS to pass an encumbering proposal which had sidestepped any normal vetting process had built into it the makings of a real storm. That is exactly what we got.

    I would hope that the RappNews would make a sincere effort to keep to facts when reporting, even in your editorials, and if you elect to slide into unsubstantiated assertions at least be honest enough to own them for what they are and don’t pretend that you are reporting.

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